Book Review: The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon

I’ve been reading a lot of short fiction this year, and that’s been good because it’s provided some variety.  I was very much ready for a sweeping, epic tale that would take me through multiple POVs, diverse settings, drama and intrigue.  Unfortunately, that craving hasn’t quite been satisfied.

The Priory of the Orange Tree

Rating:  ★★★

Description from GoodReads: The House of Berethnet has ruled Inys for a thousand years. Still unwed, Queen Sabran the Ninth must conceive a daughter to protect her realm from destruction—but assassins are getting closer to her door.

Ead Duryan is an outsider at court. Though she has risen to the position of lady-in-waiting, she is loyal to a hidden society of mages. Ead keeps a watchful eye on Sabran, secretly protecting her with forbidden magic.

Across the dark sea, Tané has trained all her life to be a dragonrider, but is forced to make a choice that could see her life unravel.  Meanwhile, the divided East and West refuse to parley, and forces of chaos are rising from their sleep.

I didn’t hate this… I just wasn’t excited about it.  It started well enough.  The reader doesn’t have a ton of info dumped on them right from the start, and the urge to keep reading is strong.  By page 400 or so I was begging for the infodumps to stop.  These were so torturous and contributed so little that I started skipping them outright.  I was reminded a lot of The Raven Tower‘s affinity for: “Here is a story I have heard.”  It was too soon after reading that to then turn around and read this.  My brain was just inundated with story after story after story after another tedious story.

I get it.  Some people like that.  I’m just not one of them.  And just for the record, I had no trouble following the story without them.

The world building, as I’m sure you can imagine, is vast.  It should be when there has been that much lore imagined to back it up.  I guess my issue is, if I’m going to read about religious upheaval, I’d rather just read historical fiction.  There are few books I’ve read that feel like they encompass an entire globe, but this is one of them.  Deserts, seas, mountainous winter regions, it is comparable to Game of Thrones on that front.

That’s where the comparisons can safely stop.  The characters here are just not interesting.  At first I liked Sabran a lot, but I don’t know if that was a help to the book.  Sabran is one of the few characters without a view point.  Tane’s views are pretty useless until the last 200 pages.  I’m still not sure why Niclay’s was needed, and in listing these viewpoints I almost entirely forgot Loth.  Of the POV characters we’re given, Ead’s story is the most interesting, but again, around the halfway mark the plot just became utterly predictable and even she couldn’t save it.

The villains were cartoonish.  I didn’t even care enough about them to hate them.  I’m not a big Game of Thrones fan, but you can bet your ass I was cheering Joffrey onto his death.  It’s not my favorite way to feel about a book, but if you can’t give me sassy and fun, or interesting and complex, at least make me hate the bad guy.  The problem is, aside from one or two minor side villains- the big bad is a (minor spoiler) sleeping dragon.

In retrospect, it would have been a lot more fun if the dragon had woken up earlier.

Very general spoilers here: there are some character deaths.  I get the feeling they were supposed to make the world dark and gritty, shock the reader, but they were honestly wasted because so very little effort was put into building the relationships up between them.  People die and it seems like other characters, despite saying they cared about them, just shrug it off.  There’s no mourning time.  There’s no reflecting on it.  The saddest death in the book, the most loving relationship, happened like 10 years before this novel even takes place.  It’s just frustrating. (For the record, I enjoyed the passages about that particular relationship very much, and it was the only one that ever felt real.)

I ended up skimming the last 300 or so pages.  The climax felt like it was going to happen around the 60% mark and I found myself questioning how much content could possibly be left.  The ending was dragged out for far too long and could have been solved by better transitional scenes or fewer points of view.

One of the main reasons I picked this up was for the diverse representation and on that front it didn’t disappoint.  I felt that it was done very subtly without ever labeling any one, but giving the reader just enough to find a character they might be able to identify with.

I would recommend this to fans of slower paced novels who can appreciate the dedication to world building here.  I think lots of readers will enjoy this one, sadly, it just wasn’t for me.

I do have content warnings for this book but they are largely spoilers.  Please leave me a comment below or check out my review on GoodReads if you’d like to know what they are.

 

 

23 thoughts on “Book Review: The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon

    • You aren’t missing anything! I wish I could get back the time I spent reading it. I think in a book this long I just keep holding out hoping it will get better.

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  1. For a book to be that long and only score a 3 … not something I want to put myself through.

    I think for it to be so long I’d need strong villains and interesting characters. Cartoonish villains and uninteresting POVs … no thanks.

    The blurb just made it sound like it was trying to have too much going on.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I don’t want to discourage anyone from reading a book they are excited about because you might like it more than I did- but waiting for the library seems like a good idea, just in case.

      I don’t think it’s a “bad” book (if there is such a thing). I think I would have liked it quite a bit if she had reduced the length to about 2/3 it’s current size. I also might have liked it more if some of the relationships and characters weren’t so obviously disposable.

      Either way- I hope you love it!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I may still pick this one up because I enjoy worldbuilding and can read slow-paced books if I am in the mood for it. But to hear that the characters are bland and the villain is cartoonish is a pretty big turnaway for me. I love getting attached to good characters. Maybe I’ll just try it from the library. Thanks for the review!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I feel so bad putting people off this book ☹️. I just prefer characters with some moral grayness or other facets of personality. They are sassy or sarcastic or condescending or something.

      And I do think plenty of people will like it, so I hope you are one of them!

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    • I’m so relieved to hear I’m not the only one who thought it was an info-dumping hot mess. I see so many 5 star reviews and I feel like I either read it wrong or missed out.

      I don’t want to put anyone off something they were excited about. I’m just one opinion and my opinion tends to differ from lots of others on this one.

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  3. Pingback: Month in Review: April 2019 | Hamlets & Hyperspace

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